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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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State moving forward on plan to place ads on state trails

TALLAHASSEE — Despite only one group showing interest, state officials are moving forward on a plan to erect sponsored signs on seven state trails, including the Withlacoochee State Trail that passes through Hernando and Pasco counties.

After a conference call this summer that had attracted more interest, Bike Path Country was the only organization to follow through, said Samantha Browne, chief of the state’s Office of Greenways and Trails.

The group acts as a middleman, providing “socially responsible sponsorships, while helping municipalities raise money for their parks and recreation departments,” according to its website.

Bike Path Country, based in Westchester County, N.Y., did not respond to a call and email Friday seeking comment.

Browne said she will meet Tuesday with supervisors at the Department of Environmental Protection, which her office is under, to discuss whether to move forward with the group.

The seven trails drew a combined 1.7 million visitors in 2011, according to state records, including more than 287,000 using the Withlacoochee trail.

State lawmakers seeking to raise money for trail upkeep passed a law in 2012 allowing companies and nonprofit groups to sponsor certain state trails.

In addition to the Withlacoochee trail, billed as the longest paved trail in Florida, they are Blackwater Heritage Trail, Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, Nature Coast State Trail and Palatka-Lake Butler State Trail in north Florida; the General James A. Van Fleet State Trail in central Florida; and the Overseas Heritage Trail in the Florida Keys.

Under the law, sponsorship signs can be placed only at trailheads or access points and can be no larger than 16 square feet at trailheads and 4 square feet at access points.

“There may be more than one sponsorship on each state trail but no more than one sponsor for each trailhead and access point,” according to state guidance for potential sponsors.

The Withlacoochee has seven trailheads through Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties, records show.

Koala Outdoor, a Polk County company that offers billboard advertising, was another that took part in the conference call but did not pursue a proposal. A representative did not respond to a request for comment.

A call to the Tallahassee office of The Nature Conservancy, which also participated in the conference call, was not returned Friday.

The sponsorship measure originally had drawn opposition from some environmentalists, who feared miniature billboards would mar the landscape.

But the signs cannot “intrude on natural and historic settings,” the law says, and can contain only a logo and wording that reads, “(Name of the sponsor) proudly sponsors the costs of maintaining the (name of the greenway or trail).”

Any proceeds from future sponsorships will be split 85 percent toward greenway and trail management and operation, and 15 percent toward the state Transportation Trust Fund for use in the Traffic and Bicycle Safety Education Program and the Safe Paths to School Program, according to state law.

There are no guidelines for sponsorship dollar amounts, with the state asking applicants to suggest the amounts, according to the project’s question-and-answer document.

Holly Parker, policy director for the Florida Trails Association, said her group “always appreciates the Legislature’s attempts to creatively fund our trails and greenways.”

But, she added, “our trails do provide a pretty rare sanctuary from advertising, which we’re all inundated with on a daily basis.”

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